18940214 See an image of this letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/f5ws-6p22


Feby 12th 94


My dear Mother,

I left a letter in Pernambuco to be forwarded to you by first mail. It took me several afternoons & evgs. to say goodbye to my friends there. Among the last to speed me was Keiller who stood champagne, partly, I suppose, to drown his grief at my departure & partly to celebrate his own approaching home-going. Two days before I left, a lady, young & charming, gave me her album in which to write some poetry. Being busy I put it off to the last moment – literally to the last half-hour – when I scrawled the following where she could tear it out without injury to the book.


My hair is grey, but not with age,

No – it grew white

In a single night

Through thinking what on earth to write

On this devoted page.



                                                                  & sent it to her with my apologies on a card. I am afraid it smacks of rudeness & shows poverty of imagination, but to write something “real pretty” requires favorable conditions & a calm mind.

This is the third day out from Pernambuco & there are fortunately only two days more to be endured. And no slight amount of endurance is required. The steamer is filthy. The habits of the passengers are too disgusting to be described in detail. I took a corner seat at a table so that I could look away from the feeders who plunge their forks, just used, into all the dishes & the pickle-bottles, & their knives, also just used, & that not legitimately, into the salt & mustard. The table-cloth looks as if it had not been washed for years & the waiter evidently looks upon me as a crank because I prefer my own napkin to someone else’s, since they don’t give me a clean one. The stench below one might cut with a knife. I sleep in my deck-chair till I feel stiff, & towards 1 o’c in the morning I go unwillingly to my cabin to leave it again at 6.

Last night before falling asleep I killed a cockroach & frightened away a rat; – happily perhaps, the light was too dim to see anything else that might be there. From some of my letters you might think it was all beer & skittles for me, but you see it is not all unmixed enjoyment.

We sailed from Pernambuco on Friday evg. On Sat’day morning we arrived at Cabedello, a village at the mouth of the river Parahyba & some 40 minutes by train from the town of that name.[1] I went up by the 8 o’c train (which started at 9.30), & spent a couple of hours in having some breakfast & walking over the little town, which contains nothing remarkable except an extraordinary number of churches. At the station I met, very unexpectedly a Mr Sumner, who sat at the same table on the “Magdalena” coming out. He is manager & engineer of the little railway. He wd have taken me to his house for breakfast had it not been mailday. When I took my ticket on the railway, the station master, ticket-clerk, & factotum, volunteered the information that I must give one half of said ticket to the collector & keep the other half for the return journey. He saw I was a foreigner & evidently thought that in foreign parts they had not advanced so far as return tickets.

Next day we touched at Natal or Rio Grande do Norte, but as the steamer lay outside the bar & only remained a couple of hours I did not go ashore.

To-day we are at Ceará. The steamer is anchored in the small open bay, not more than 200 yards from the broad sandy beach on which the ground-swell breaks into heavy surf. Passengers land in strong boats, two or more men rowing, & one steering with an oar over the stern. About 20 yards from the edge the men jump out, up to their waists in water while the waves frequently pass over their heads; they push the boat as far up the sand as they can while a crowd of jabbering niggers rush into the water & fight for the privilege of carrying the passengers to dry land at 2d a head. I felt rather funny as I was lifted like a long baby in the arms of a muscular mulatto. He did not seem very secure. I think he was tormented by doubts as to whether he had all of me out of the water or not.


Maranhão 14th Feby. Arrived. Glory be! Safely fixed in the comfortable little hotel. I wrote the above on Monday. Tuesday morning[2] we were off Amaraçao[3]; – nothing to be seen but a bank of sand & some tree-tops behind. Half a mile from the shore a bar over which the big waves broke threateningly. Two boats came off, shipped a lot of water, took two passengers & some mail-bags, & away we went. Glad I was not going there. Not long ago two boats capsized on the bar, everyone drowned.

The next mail leaves here abt. 22nd S.S. Brandenburg for L’pool. So you may expect a letter abt. middle of March.

Best love,


Letters Barbados Mess. Da Costa & Co[4]

  1. In the late 19th-century, Parahyba was a rapidly-growing port city with 18,645 residents (1890). It was the starting point of a railway to Independencia and the interior of Brazil as well as entrance to the Parahyba do Norte River.
  2. the day before
  3. amarraçao: portuguese for "mooring"; no place found of that name
  4. Large trading house in Barbados owned by an influential family. See Da Costa in Index to People.


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John McCaldin Loewenthal: Letters Home from a Victorian Commercial Traveller, 1889 - 1895 Copyright © 2022 by Michelle Fink, Robert Boyd, Sarah Watkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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